Insights on Cheap Websites

For a few years, I’ve been trying to crack the “inexpensive websites for artists” challenge, as I know several artists who tell me the same lament:

  • Websites are expensive!
  • The websites don’t work well!
  • They are hard to update!
  • The web designer disappeared, and took my domain!
  • I’m being held hostage by the web company, and they won’t let me have my domain.

Such stories make me angry, because I have enough knowledge to know that things don’t have to be this way.

My first approach to first make “brochure-ware” websites, which are simple templates where the layout is fixed, in simple HTML. However, this proved difficult for the clients to update, even when using something like Unify.

My second approach was to convert the template to WordPress, and run a separate WordPress Multisite (now called Network) to support multiple artists. I coded the themes to hide most of the administration, but the next challenge was just getting basic things like (1) words and (2) photos created and uploaded. The next great pain-in-the-ass for artists is making money to support their hobby, which entails (3) teaching classes, which means adding scheduling and (4) selling work, which means adding e-commerce support.

It just hit me today that the initial desire for the website is really this cry: I need business help! The same applies to me, actually, with my own site. I’ve been trying to run it for the past 7 years without really having an underlying business, which explains why I’m stuck.

So, to refactor the Cheap Websites for Artists problem, it isn’t just providing a brochureware website solution. It really is providing a lego-like business structure that snaps together:

  • Being Seen on the Internet – Simple Website – Fixed Cost
  • Having Something to Say / SEO – Copywriting – Additional Cost
  • Offering Classes – Course Structure and Writeup – Additional Cost, but scheduling system included
  • Selling Pieces – Ecommerce Setup – Additional Cost
  • Customization of Anything – Additional Cost
  • Graphic Design – Additional Cost
  • Ongoing Training and Support – Additional Cost, or a monthly fee

So that is how I’d structure it now. The only cheap part is the simple website, since it’s pre-built. Everything else requires organizational skill, time, and development of new systems. Once the systems are built, the cost of that feature can drop over time as it’s resold over and over. Some process can be turned in simpler procedures too.

The technical challenges are the e-commerce and the scheduling system. There are a handful of plugins already out there, but they are pretty cumbersome. From a user training perspective, there is also managing photo resizing and file uploads, which is still a tremendously confusing muddle for most people. WordPress is getting a little better with every release at managing media, but there’s basic computer skills that go along with it, such as file organization and naming that comes along with that.